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Ditton in his researches after the longitude (for which the mischief-loving Swift discharged on their heads, a most savouiy stanza), has distinguished himself by a very admirable theory respecting the earth. He conjectures that it was originally a chaotic comet, which, being selected for the abode of man, was removed from its eccentric orbit, and whirled round the sun in its present regular motion ; by which change of direction, order succeeded to confusion in the arrangement of its component parts. The philosopher adds, that the deluge was produced by an uncourteous salute from the watery tail of another comet; doubtless through sheer envy of its improved condition; thus furnishing a melancholy proof that jealousy may prevail, even among the heavenly bodies, and discord in terrupt that celestial harmony of the spheres, so melodi. ously sung by the poets.
But I pass over a variety of excellent theories, among which are those of Burnet, and Woodward, and Whitehurst; regretting extremely that my time will not suffer me to give them the notice they deserve. And shall conclude with that of the renowned Dr. Darwin. This learned Theban, who is as much distinguished for rhyme as reason, and for good natured credulity as serious rer search; and who has recommended himself wonderfully to the good graces of the ladies, by letting them into all the gallantries, amours, debaucheries, and other topics of scandal of the court of Flora, has fallen upon a theory worthy of his combustible imagination. According to his opinion, the huge mass of chaos took a sudden occasion to explode, like a barrel of gunpowder, and, in that act, exploded the sun-which, in its flight, by a similar convulsion exploded the earth which in like guise exploded the moon and thus, by a concatenation of explosions, the whole solar system was produced, and set most systematically in motion*.
By the great variety of theories here alluded to, every one of which, if thoroughly examined, will be found sur.
*Darw. Bot Garden. Part I cant, i. 1. 105.
prisingly consistent in all its parts, my unlearned readers will perhaps be led to conclude, that the creation of a world is not so difficult a task as they at first imagined. I have shown at least a score of ingenious methods in which a world could be constructed; and, I have no doubt, that had any of the philosophers above quoted the use of a good manageable comet, and the philosophical warehouse, chaos, at his command, he would engage to manufacture a planet, as good, or, if you would take his word for it, better than this we inhabit.
And here I cannot help noticing the kindness of providence, in creating comets for the great relief of bewildered philosophers. By their assistance more sudden evolutions and transitions are effected in the system of nature, than are wrought in a pantomimic exhibition, by the wonderworking sword of harlequin. Should one of our modern sages, in his theoretical flights among the stars, ever find himself lost in the clouds, and in danger of tumbling into the abyss of nonsense and absurdity, he has but to seize a comet by the beard, mount astride of its tail, and away he gallops in triumph, like an enchanter on his hippogriff, or a Connecticut witch on her broomstick, “to sweep the cobwebs out of the sky."
It is an old and vulgar saying, about a beggar on horseback,"which I would not for the world have applied to these reverend philosophers: but I must confess, that some of them, when they are mounted on one of those fiery steeds, are as wild in their curvetings as was Phæton, of yore, when he aspired to manage the chariot of Phoebus. One drives his comet at full speed against the sun, and knocks the world out of him with the mighty concussion; another, more moderate, makes his comet a kind of beast of burden, carrying the sun a regular supply of food and faggots; a third of more combustible disposition, threatens to throw his comet, like a bombshell, into the world, and blow it up like a powder magazine: while a fourth, with no great delicacy to this planet and its inhabitants, insinuates that some day or other his comet-> my modest pen blushes while I write it-shall absolutely turn tail upon the world and deluge it with water!
Surely, as I have already observed, comets were bountifully provided by providence for the benefit of philosophers to assist them in manufacturing theories.
And now, having adduced several of the most prominent theories that occur to my recollection, I leave my judicious readers at full liberty to choose among them. They are all serious speculations of learned men—all differ essentially from each other and all have the same title to belief. It has ever been the task of one race of philosophers to demolish the works of their predecessors, and elevate more splendid fantasies in their stead, which, in their turn, are demolished and replaced by the air-castles of a succeeding generation. Thus it would seem that knowledge and genius, of which we make such great parade, consist but in detecting the errors and absurdities of those who have gone before, and devising new errors and absurdities, to be detected by those who are to come after
Theories are the mighty soap-bubbles with which the grown-up children of science amuse themselves; while the honest vulgar stand gazing in stupid admiration, and dignify these learned vagaries with the name of wisdom! -Surely Socrates was right in his opinion, that philoso. phers are but a soberer sort of madmen, busying themselves in things totally incomprehensible, or which, if they could be comprehended, would be found not worthy the trouble of discovery.
For my own part, until the learned have come to an agreement among themselves, I shall content myself with the account handed down to us by Moses; in which I do but follow the example of our ingenious neighbours of Connecticut; who at their first settlement proclaimed, that the colony should be governed by the laws of Goduntil they had time to make better.
One thing however appears certain- from the unanimous authority of the before quoted philosophers, supported by the evidence of our own senses (which, though very apt to deceive us, may be cautiously admitted as additional testimony), it appears, I say, and I make the assertion deliberately, without fear of contradiction, that this globe really was created, and that it is composed of
land and water. It further appears that it is curiously divided and parcelled out into continents and islands, among which I boldly declare the renowned ISLAND OF NEW-YORK will be found by any one who seeks for it in its proper place.
And now the infant settlement having advanced in age and stature, it was thought high time it should receive an honest Christian name, and it was accordingly called NewAmsterdam. It is true there were some advocates for the original Indian name, and many of the best writers of the province did long continue to call it by the title of “ The Manhattoes,” but this was discountenanced by the authorities, as being heathenish and savage. Besides, it was considered an excellent and praiseworthy measure to name it after a great city of the old world; as by that means it was induced emulate the greatness and renown of its namesake in the manner that littlesnivelling urchins are called after great statesmen, saints, and worthies, and renowned generals of yore, upon which they all industriously copy their examples, and come to be very mighty men in their day and generation.
The thriving state of the settlement and the rapid increase of houses gradually awakened the good Oloffe from a deep lethargy, into which he had fallen after the building of the fort. He now began to think it was time some plan should be devised on which the increasing town should be built. Summoning, therefore, his counsellors and coadjutors together, they took pipe in mouth, and forth with sunk into a very sound deliberation on the subject.
At the very outset of the business an unexpected difference of opinion arose, and I mention it with much sorrowing, as being the first altercation on record in the councils of New-Amsterdam. It was a breaking forth of the grudge and heartburning that had existed between
those two eminent burghers, Mynheers Tenbroeck and Hardenbroeck, ever since their unhappy altercation on the coast of Bellevue. The great Hardenbroeck had waxed very wealthy and powerful from his domains, which embraced the whole chain of Apulean mountains that stretch along the gulf of Kip's Bay, and form part of which bis descendants have been expelled in latter ages by the powerful clans of the Joneses and the Shermerhornes.
An ingenious plan for the city was offered by Mynheer Tenbroeck, who proposed that it should be cut up and intersected by canals, after the manner of the most admired cities in Holland, To this Mynheer Hardenbroeck was diametrically opposed, suggesting in place thereof that they should run out docks and wharfs by means of piles, driven into the bottom of the river, on which the town should be built. By these means," said he triumphantly, “ shall we rescue a considerable space of territory from these immense rivers, and build a city that shall rival Amsterdam, Venice, or any amphibious city in Europe.” To this proposition Tenbroeck (or Ten Breeches) replied, with a look of as much scorn as he could possibly assume.
He cast the utmost censure upon the plan of his antagonist as being preposterous, and against the very order of things, as he would leave to every true Hollander.
“For what,” said he," is a town without canals?
- It is like a body without veins and arteries, and must perish for want of a free circulation of the vital fluid." Tough Breeches, on the contrary, retorted with a sarcasm upon his antagonist, who was somewhat of an arid, dry boned habit; he remarked, that as to the circalation of the blood being necessary to existence, Mynheer Ten Breeches was a living contradiction to his own assertion; for every body knew there had not a drop of blood circulated through his wind-dried carcass for good ten years, and yet there was not a greater busybody in the whole colony. Personalities have seldom much effect in making converts in argument; nor have I ever seen a man convinced of error by being convicted of deformity. At - least, such was not the case at present. Ten Breeche